Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Stuff of Legend(s)

Great Chefs of France-Anthony Blake, Quentin Crewe

In the thirty years since publication this book has gained an almost cult like status. Why? Not exactly too sure. Not that it isn't an interesting book. However it is certainly not the first or the last book to have been written about French chefs. But there is a certain mystique contained within these pages.

Perhaps in part it is due to the timing of the book. It was published in 1978. And while not a chef the formidable Madame point is featured in the book. Half of the others featured worked in her husbands kitchen. Several others wanted to but did not get the chance but it is clear that they were influenced by the man and his work. Not that this is a tribute to Point, at lest not intentionally. 'Great Chefs' chronicles and bridges that moment in time. Things on the French culinary scene were changing 'Nouvelle Cuisine' was all the rage. Gastro-tourism was on the rise and Chefs were getting to enjoy a certain new found celebrity status. In turn these chefs have influenced a whole new generation, or two, how to cook.

The book can be divided into two parts. The first being a profile of the chefs and their restaurants. The reader gets to learn first hand just what it is that has set these people and places apart. The second half is devoted to more practical information. Words form the chefs about cooking, wine, the specialties of the region, and even advice about running a restaurant.

It could also be in part of the photos taken by Blake, documenting both the front of the house and the goings on behind the scenes. They are striking in both black and white and color. Providing glimpses into the professional and person life of a restaurant family.

There can be no doubt that this book can seem dated. Half of those featured have since passed on. Others have retired and sold their restaurants. Yet it is this documentation of a unique time in modern gastronomy that makes this book so interesting.

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